A recent survey found that 25% of designers over 40 have worked as freelancers for more than 20 years.
Gen X designers are not the only generation that is self-employed. In fact, the technological advancement and the massive influence on the global culture made different age groups also embrace freelancing.
With 34%, millennials are the largest group and 23% of Gen Z designers freelance as well.
Freelancers have not grown in numbers only.
They have also become more sharp-witted and ambitious which comes as a result of them managing their own activities online.
Freelancing comes with certain benefits and perhaps the biggest of them all is the ability for designers to work from wherever they choose.
From Silicon Valley to Europe, the top design job destinations for designers are scattered across the globe.
In this article, we outline the best countries and cities for designers, both self-employed and those who prefer the stability of working for a single company.
The US is one of the top global locations for design work and is internationally known for high-quality design, generated both in-house for the world’s leading tech startups and on the agency side for some of the most respected firms.
Even though the US design population faces a “threat” from cheaper outsourced labor, demand for quality and innovation in the increasingly competitive digital space helps keep jobs in the country.
These are the major sectors in the design industry in the country:
In 2019, there were 281,500 graphic designers in the country.
The states that hold the highest employment in the sector are:
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry employment is expected to slow down in the years to come.
In fact, from 2019 to 2029 graphic design jobs will grow by only four percent.
The stagnation in job growth will be driven mostly by the decline in opportunities in print media such as newspaper, magazine and book publishing.
However, the good news is that graphic design within the digital space is projected to grow 20% during the same timeframe, which means that graphic designers should focus their professional development efforts in this area.
In 2021, the median salary for graphic designers is $45,677/year.
Roughly 21% of these professionals are self-employed, which makes it one of the more freelance-heavy fields in the US.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
In 2019, the employment stood at 67,500 positions and the median annual pay was $75,270.
More than half of US multimedia artists and animators are self-employed.
The employment in the sector is estimated to grow four percent between 2019 and 2029.
The growth in the field is expected to be driven by consumer expectations of increasingly sophisticated and realistic graphics in video games, apps and movies.
Competition may increase as well mostly due to the widespread appeal of the industry among young students and graduates.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t track web design specifically, but it does track statistics for web development, which includes web design services.
Their definition of the role of web developer notes that:
In 2019, there were 67,500 web developers in the US.
The same source predicts that between 2019 and 2029, the number of professionals will increase by eight percent, which is higher than the average for all occupations or four percent.
Much of the job growth in the field will be driven by the increased adoption and popularity of mobile devices and eCommerce, both of which necessitate additional investment on behalf of companies in design and development services.
According to Glassdoor, the median annual salary of web developers is $68,524, whereas web designers earn $52,691/year on average.
If you’re looking to take a more global approach to your design career and situate yourself somewhere outside the US, then check the following best countries for designers:
The design industry in the UK is thriving. In fact, in 2018, the gross value added (GVA) of the design and designer fashion sectors totaled £2.52 billion or $3.35 billion.
The UK is one of the world’s major design hubs, with many top-tier agencies based out of London and Glasgow.
According to Design Council:
There are a few reasons that make the UK one of the most enticing countries for US designers.
On the one hand, there are no language barriers.
On the other hand, the UK has a cost of living that is 12.21% lower than in the US. It means that living there is less expensive.
Yet, the United Kingdom is one of the countries with the highest graphic design salaries. The average annual salary is $72,500, and larger cities like London are the best paying.
Although Canada has a relatively small population of such a geographically large country, it does boast a lively design scene.
The average graphic designer salary in the country is $48,750/year.
In Canada, as elsewhere, the need to streamline brand assets across many different media has put designers, particularly those with skills in multiple design disciplines, in demand.
According to eTalent Canada, the biggest employers of graphic designers and illustrators in the country are:
In terms of future job prospects by province, British Columbia offers the highest number of possibilities.
As Job Bank states, over the period 2019-2028, the number of new job openings in the field is expected to total 21,500.
So, the strong job growth is one of the key reasons that make Canada a welcoming place for graphic designers.
Another reason is the fact that the cost of living in the country is lower than in the US. In fact, according to Numbeo when compared to Canada, US’:
An interesting fact says that China was the leading country in terms of smartphone users in 2020.
With a penetration of 60.75%, it outranks India, United States and Indonesia.
China has a great population of devoted mobile users. This is why one of the main priorities in the country are mobile design and development.
Shenzhen, especially, is one of the leading centers and design capital widely recognized for its achievement in the innovation and creative industries.
With funding to support startups in the area, it holds the status as a City of Design. (Creative Cities Network)
Roughly 100,000 people are employed by 6,000 design firms in Shenzhen.
According to Payscale, graphic designers in China earn $1276/year on average.
When compared to the US graphic design earning, salaries in China are lower.
However, The Red Dragon has a lower cost of living and in fact, it is 34.1% cheaper than America.
So, moving to the country, for you it would mean a high salary and a cheap life.
In addition, China has the biggest number of 500 Fortune companies in the world. So, it means that it offers great opportunities for employment by huge brands like:
Sweden is a country known for design prowess, and it boasts many top-tier design schools and firms. Urban areas are home to many tech companies that provide opportunities for employment for those in the design field.
The country is known for entrepreneurship and innovation as well as a tolerant and peaceful place with a high quality of living.
In fact, it ranks third on US News listing for Best Countries for Quality of Life after Canada and Denmark.
According to Payscale, graphic designers in Sweden earn $34,927/year on average. Web designers get $47,610 and UX designers get $48,281.
With its intricate culture and slightly out-of-the-box adoption of design trends and technologies, Japan is certainly a country industry that is both exciting and unique for designers looking to grow their talents and learn new ways of design.
A hub for creativity and technological advancement, there is major room for exploration in the design industry in Japan.
US News ranks Japan as:
Graphic designers in Japan earn $34,229/year on average, web designers earn $39,200/year and UX designers get $36,903. (Payscale)
The startup scene in Israel is thriving. In fact, Tel Aviv ranks sixth among the top 30 global startup ecosystems and runners-up.
This, combined with the high-tech mindset of the country, makes it a desirable choice for many professionals in the design field.
A few factors that made the city hold a top position on the list are:
According to Payscale, in Israel:
Here are some of the best cities for designers looking for both career opportunities and quality of living:
Berlin is widely known as a trendy cultural hub, and those qualities make it one of the best cities for designers.
The city makes a huge effort to foster its creative community.
According to MoveHub, Berlin is home to:
As one of the biggest cultural hotspots in Europe, you will never lack inspiration.
Berlin has a solid startup scene and a high density of coworking spaces for those designers hoping to live the freelance life.
Even though it is the capital of Germany, the cost of living in Berlin is nothing if not reasonable, especially for a world-class city. A small apartment here will run you around $1,199 on average.
Graphic designers can expect a median salary of $37,535 according to PayScale, while web designers and UX designers can expect medians of $41,385 and $52,839 respectively.
Though the winters may be cold, Toronto is still one of the best cities for graphic designers to live in.
It has a lively startup scene and many big companies are headquartered there, making jobs with exciting brands readily available.
According to Forbes, Toronto’s best employers include:
Toronto is home to many ethnic neighborhoods. The city’s diverse population of 6,196,731 people helps make it a lively cultural center.
What’s more, Canada’s universal health care system eliminates the financial burden healthcare can have on freelancers.
Median salaries for designers in Toronto are reasonable, ranging from $34,273 for graphic designers to $42,842 for web designers and $68,547 for UX designers according to Glassdoor.
Another Canadian hub makes the list of best cities for designers. Montreal is a vibrant cultural capital and home to some of the biggest festivals in the world including Montréal Jazz Fest, Montréal Complètement Cirque and Montréal en Lumière.
So, the city’s vibrant scene makes it the perfect place where you can find inspiration and connect with culturally like-minded people.
Montreal boasts surprisingly reasonable costs of living of 66.51%. When compared to NYC, The Big Apple is 33.49% more expensive. (Numbeo)
The city is home to many Canadian startup companies and has a strong game design and development presence.
Median design salaries in Montreal are slightly lower than in other comparable North American cities, but the lower cost of living bridges the gap.
Graphic designers can expect to earn median salaries of $34,923, web designers can expect $35,390, and UX designers $46,398 according to PayScale.
New York City is an internationally recognized hotbed of design jobs and talent. Most of the top US design agencies are based here and the city has made attracting tech companies to the area a top priority.
Jobs in New York are abundant, which makes it an attractive destination for some of the best design talent.
Costs of living in New York are notoriously high, with the average rental cost of a one-bedroom apartment around $2,683/month.
But prices vary depending on the neighborhood. So, this is how much you can expect in the following areas on average:
However, according to US News, New York is one of the top cities with thbe highest salaries in the US.
In other words, to make up for the high living costs, New York salaries are some of the highest in the country.
This is one of the great reasons why NYC is one of the best cities for designers.
The median salary for a graphic designer is $54,916. For a web designer, it's $63,196 and goes up to $94,498 for UX designers according to Glassdoor.
Boston ranks as the third best city for startup success.
In recent years, it has boomed as a startup capital through partnerships with IBM and the success of startups like Wayfair and Drizly.
The city is also home to 16 Fortune 500 companies. Some of the biggest employers in the area are:
These facts combined with the potential for extreme technological advancement make Boston one of the best cities for graphic design jobs to dive in head first and kickstart their careers.
According to Glassdoor, the median salary in the city is:
It’s impossible to write a list of the best cities for designers without mentioning the Bay Area. Even though skyrocketing costs of living have made it more difficult to afford to live in the city, the area still attracts some of the top design talents in the world.
Silicon Valley is teeming with companies in need of design talent, and many designers dream of working for the country’s most respected tech giants.
Along with NYC, San Francisco is one of the cities with the highest salaries. (US News)
Median salaries in the Bay Area blow other cities out of the water, so designers looking to take home big paychecks may find it an attractive option.
The median salary for a UX designer is upwards of $104,843/year, while for web designers it’s $69,125. For graphic designers, the median salary is $64,531 according to Glassdoor.
London is home to many highly respected design firms, and for designers building their careers in the UK, it’s certainly a top destination.
The city is a cultural center teeming with art, music, literature, and history -- plenty of inspiration to feed the creative minds of designers.
GLA states that:
London is expensive but not as expensive as NYC. In fact, according to Numbeo, when compared to The Big Apple’s:
What’s more, research shows that England's capital is one of the cities where people get the highest salaries.
Median salaries in London are very reasonable for those in design fields. Graphic designers take home median salaries of $37,866/year, web designers earn $39,548 and UX designers earn $54,218 according to Glassdoor.
Deciding to freelance is a fun and exciting endeavor, and as a designer, freelancing is more of a possibility than it is in other industries.
According to Upwork, in 2019, 57 million people in the United States worked freelance. When compared to 2014, that’s an increase of 4 million.
With the number of freelancers rising — about 15% of the US workforce claimed to work freelance — now’s the time to get your affairs in order and maximize your value and capabilities.
The numbers indicate that the design sector is a big market to compete in.
That’s mostly because of the amazing benefits like lower cost of living and high salaries that come with these areas.
In fact, based on the data of the same source, 46% of freelancers believe that freelancing opens up new opportunities and huge flexibility.
To become a successful freelance designer, follow these five steps:
There's nothing worse than starting a project without all the facts, figures and assurances.
And if you're starting out, you might think it's ok to go along with an email agreement only without an assurance that both parties will follow through with the deal.
However, a legal agreement can protect you and your client in cases of unforeseeable circumstances.
That's why it's important you draft a contract that stipulates:
Don't waste time creating and recreating PDFs for your clients to download, sign and scan back.
Make the process easier on yourself by using tools like Coupa, HelloSign or PandaDoc to send, receive and sign contracts with your clients.
Having a portfolio plays a key role in your life as a freelancer because it serves as evidence of your relevant skills and abilities and showcases your talent.
Your portfolio contributes to the presentation of your professional self, demonstrates your competencies, shows you as a responsible and serious individual and gives potential clients something to gauge your capabilities.
However, you shouldn't stop enriching your portfolio because you've nailed a good gig.
Instead, you should update it constantly because some prospective clients may want to see how far you've come. And there isn’t any better proof that can show your progress which could be the deciding factor for a client.
Don't give away your services for cheap just because you think it's the only way to get clients in the door. Your efforts are valuable.
Instead, learn how much you are worth by performing market research, asking colleagues and peers or using platforms like Glassdoor, Payscale and Salary to calculate if you are paid fairly.
You can also calculate your minimum acceptable rate (MAR).
MAR = ((Personal/Living Expenses + Business Expenses) / (Hours Worked))
This is how:
That gives you your MAR hourly rate and helps you understand how much you deserve to earn.
Just because you've landed a sweet setup doesn't mean it's time to throw in the towel and stop growing your network.
You never know when a professional relationship will end, and you don't want to be left floundering and searching for a new client because your old one disappeared.
This is why you should always connect with new people.
This way you will be able to meet new people in your industry and expand your circle of peers. You never know when you might need to call in a favor.
Saying no can be difficult but sometimes it's necessary. You don't want to burn yourself out or take on more than you can handle.
Moreover, you also shouldn't say yes because you feel like you have to if the pay isn't good or if the work doesn't inspire you.
If you're not passionate about what you do, the work will ultimately fall flat. Saying no might be the better option in the long run because your name won't be tied to a project that flopped.
The beauty of being a designer is that in most cases your skills are highly sought after. That gives you flexibility in terms of where you live and who you work for.
If your goal is to freelance, you can live virtually anywhere you want and establish relationships with companies in top design markets.
And if you’re looking to settle down, then look for a city with a healthy balance of inspiring culture, job opportunities and livable salaries.
If you're looking more broadly, some of the best countries to settle down in as a designer include:
These destinations are hubs for creativity, innovation and technological advancement. And they are home to some of the best cities for graphic design jobs which include:
In each of these cities, you're guaranteed to grow and adapt as a designer while living your best life.
Whether you're a freelancer, or a full-time salaried employee working in an office day in and day out, you need to know your worth and be confident in your experiences.
These tips are helpful for new or seasoned freelancers:
With these tips and statistics, you'll be one step closer to nailing your next design job in the city of your dreams.